Sunday,21 April, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1385, (15 - 21 March 2018)
Sunday,21 April, 2019
Issue 1385, (15 - 21 March 2018)

Ahram Weekly

After Pyongyang

After shuttle diplomacy by senior South Korean officials, US President Donald Trump made the surprise announcement that he has agreed to meet with North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, by May. It will be the first time a sitting US president meets with any leader of North Korea, and comes after a heated exchange of personal insults between the two presidents since Trump took office more than a year ago.

Hopefully the talks will be a genuine attempt to settle one of the world’s most complicated conflicts, and is not simply an attempt by the US president to overcome his internal problems by making a bombshell announcement on Twitter as he has been accustomed to.

Investigations on Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential elections are getting closer and closer to the US president himself, and both his son and his son-in-law have already been named as among the key suspects in the investigation carried out by special counsel, and former FBI director, Robert Mueller.

To make matters worse, Mueller is reportedly pursuing angles related to potentially corrupt foreign influence on a wide range of people in Trump’s orbit, with Qatar, Turkey, China and the United Arab Emirates all being mentioned as subjects of his investigators’ questioning.

Thus, Trump certainly needs some major event to divert attention from investigation into Russian meddling, plus his own personal scandals and reports that his confident lawyer paid a huge sum of money to a porn star in order not to reveal embarrassing information on an affair she allegedly had with the US president in 2006.

Trump sought to increase expectations ahead of the meeting, which raised eyebrows in Washington and around the world because it would not be preceded by negotiations among senior officials from the two countries. The two presidents will take the tough task of negotiating themselves a deal aimed at reaching permanent denuclearisation in the Korean Peninsula, according to US officials. Convincing President Kim Jon-un to give up his nuclear arsenal, a source of national pride and an important deterrent for US troops stationed in South Korea since the early 1950s, will certainly not be an easy task. However, to sweeten the sharp turn in his stance, Trump announced that the North Korean leader had agreed not to conduct any nuclear or missile tests until they meet at a place to be determined in May. Such tests were seen as a major threat to all of North Korea’s neighbours, especially South Korea and Japan.

Despite all these difficulties, diplomacy with North Korea is always a good thing, and the fact that the United States is actually willing to talk with North Korea is very promising. However, there are a lot of challenges going forward, and it is unclear what any agreement may look like.

Trump will head to the meeting with his North Korean rival after approving an unprecedented set of sanctions against Pyongyang. There has been economic pressure on the closed communist regime of North Korea that started under the former Obama administration. But the Trump administration accelerated it, deepened it and most importantly got the Chinese, the only ally of the North Korean regime, to put pressure economically on Pyongyang, which many believe is one of the reasons why Kim Jong-un has agreed to come to the negotiating table.

The North Koreans have offered meetings with American presidents many times. But this was the first time that an American president has accepted it. In return, North Korea has offered to freeze testing, while Washington said they wanted to see more movement towards denuclearisation before the actual meeting takes place.

In 2005, North Korea committed to abandoning all nuclear weapons and its existing nuclear programmes. However, 13 months after they made that declaration, they conducted their first nuclear test. Thus, there is a lot of mistrust between the two countries, and both will seek assurances to verify whatever they agree on.

If the talks between the two countries are successful, hopefully it will set a model for other parts of the world to hold talks and reach agreement on denuclearisation. This is an issue of extreme importance for the Middle East region where one country, Israel, has been insisting on defying all international agreements and conventions and maintaining a secret nuclear arsenal, away from international inspection or monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The only difference between Tel Aviv and Pyongyang is that Israel is Washington’s darling, and is always given exceptions by the world’s sole superpower, whether in terms of illegally occupying Palestinian territory, or keeping a devastating nuclear arsenal that poses an existential threat to the countries of the region. Israel should not be allowed such exceptional status if the world’s effort to denuclearise is to gain any credibility.

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